Interview: Warren Haynes (Gov’t Mule, The Allman Brothers Band, solo)

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HIT CHANNEL EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: December 2013. We had the great honour to talk with one of the most talented musicians of our times: Warren Haynes. Warren has a spectacular career as guitarist/singer with his band, Gov’t Mule, with the Allman Brothers Band and as a solo artist as well. He has also played with Dickie Betts (Allman Brothers original guitarist), The Dead, David Allen Coe, Dave Matthews Band and many others. Recently, he released with Gov’t Mule the amazing album, “Shout!” with the participation of many great singers (Ben Harper, Elvis Costello, Glenn Hughes, Dr John, Dave Matthews, Jim James, Toots Hibbert, Grace Potter, Myles Kennedy, Ty Taylor and Steve Winwood). Read below the very interesting things he told us:


Are you satisfied with the feedback you got so far from fans and press for “Shout!” album?

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Yes. I think people seem to be responding very positively to our record and of course we are very proud of it. We have started to play the material live in front of an audience and people really seem to be enjoying.


During the recordings of “Shout!” did you try to recreate in the studio the atmosphere of a Gov’t Mule concert?

Yes, that is what we try to do in the studio in general because we’re more comfortable on stage than we are in the studio. So, we want to translate that to the recording process, so whenever the Gov’t Mule records we all set up at the same time playing together just like we are onstage.


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At which point you started thinking of the guest singers: before the writing of the songs or afterwards?

After. We were in the middle of the recording process before we came up with the idea of adding guest vocalists. In the beginning it was going to be one guest, then two and then three. The first three were: Elvis Costello, Dr. John and Toots Hibbert. Once we decided on three, we decided to get eleven.


Which were your influences as far as the song “Captured”? Some say Pink Floyd, others Neil Young…

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(Laughs) I think it has a very simple chord progression and obviously it has been utilized in dozens if not hundreds of songs over the years. It reminds me a little bit of many things, you know, and it sounds like Stephen Stills and Graham Nash and David Crosby and of course you mentioned Neil Young and Pink Floyd. All these things probably influenced that song in one way or another but in a very subconscious sort of way.


The phrase “I got blisters on my fuckin’ fingers” in the end of “Funny Little Tragedy” is a kind of tribute to Ringo Starr and “Helter Skelter”?

(Laughs) I don’t know! It was spontaneous. It was just what Matt (ed: Abts, the drummer of Gov’t Mule) said at the end of a date. I don’t think he thought that we would keep it for the recording. He just said it, it was funny and we decided to keep it.


Did you enjoy the two gigs you did with Robby Krieger (The Doors guitarist) in late October?

Yes and we have another one wonderful show coming up on New Year’s Eve with Robby as well. I usually do one thematic show for Halloween but this year we did two: one in Los Angeles and one in San Francisco. We had so much fun and there was so much fan interest generated through the e-mail and Internet; people on the East Coast wanted to see it and we decided to bring it to New York and doing it for New Year’s Eve.


Will you tour in Europe for “Shout!”?

Yes, we ‘ve done some shows already and we are looking forward to doing a lot next year. So, we will be in Europe a lot next year.


Was it difficult to write the follow-up of an excellent album as “By A Thread” was? The comparison would be inevitable.

There are four years between those two records, which is probably too long, but during that interim I made “Man In Motion”, my solo record and I had to work on that, so it was very important for Gov’t Mule to finally take a break. We took one year break for the first time in our career and I think that helped us gain the perspective for what it was we wanted to do for the following record. I think we benefited from taking that time off.


Will there be a new studio album by the Allman Brothers Band?

Eh, it’s possible but I don’t (ed: pause) predict that. But it’s a possibility.


Was it an entertaining process for you to explore your ‘60s/’70s soul/blues influences in your solo album, “Man In Motion” (2011)?

That album came organically because I had written a lot of songs that all seemed to work together. They didn’t seem like Gov’t Mule songs, they didn’t seem like Allman Brothers songs but they all seemed to have something in common. And I always wanted to make a record that captures my soul music roots and my traditional blues roots and so I just can combine those two things together and it seemed like the right time to do that.


Do you consider the live cover to Neil Young’s “Cortez the Killer” with Dave Matthews Band at Central Park in 2003 as one of the highlights of your career? I really love that version!!

The version we did at Central Park was quite amazing and it was such a wonderful feeling to be onstage with that crowd. You know, there is 100.000 people. We were looking over Central Park and the New York skyline and it was just a very special moment. And it was very spontaneous, we hadn’t talked about doing “Cortez” until that day. Dave turned to me at soundcheck and said: “You know “Cortez”? I want to do that song” and I said: “Yes, I want to do it too. Maybe we should do it together”. So, we decided to do it but there was no real rehearsal. It was just very spontaneous.


You got to know and play with one of your biggest heroes: Levon Helm (The Band drummer/occasional singer). What do you remember the most of Levon?

Well, I met Levon in the early ‘90s and we became friends instantly. He was a very sincere, beautiful human being. Of course, I loved his music before I ever got to know him but once we became friends, I valued his friendship very much. I think his voice will be part of history and of course his drumming is so natural and comfortable. He used to be one of my favourite drummers in addition to be an amazing singer. I miss him very much.


Did you feel any pressure from the fans when you first played with the Grateful Dead members?

No, I mean I guess the Grateful Dead fans can be kind of critics because they all tend to place Jerry Garcia on this unreachable pedestal, which is understandable. You know, he was the Big in their sky, but for someone like myself who spends many-many-many times on music, I would never want to copy someone else’s style. So, when I became associated with Phil Lesh (ed: Grateful Dead bassist) and eventually with the Grateful Dead, they asked me to just be myself and not try to copy Jerry Garcia. I guess there was some pressure from the audience but I try not to think about it. But many years later that audience embraces me very warmly.


You were 20 years old when you started playing with David Allen Coe. What was the most important thing that you learned during this period?

I learned a lot about how to deal with people in the music business and particularly in touring capacity. Watching from distance the lifestyle that I have been out of it then, and it was a lot for a young kid to absorb but I think I learned a lot of watching the positive and the negative. I learned what I wanted to do and what I did not want to do.


Do you miss Allen Woody (Gov’t Mule original bassist and member of the Allman Brothers Band; died in 2000)?

Very much, yeah. I think about him every day.


Which song you play is the most challenging onstage?

The most challenging is probably “Kind of Bird”, the song that myself and Dickey Betts wrote as a tribute to Charlie Parker.


Are you proud of being a part of the Allman Brothers Band history?

Very much, yes! I always was a huge Allman Brothers Band fan as a kid. They were my absolutely favourite band and of course there would be no way to predict that I would eventually part of that. I’m very proud to be a part of that history but even more proud of the music that we make.


Is there anyone you would like to play with and hasn’t happened yet?

I have never played with Neil Young. I would enjoy that very much.


By the way, have your ever played with Steve Cropper (Booker T. & the M.G.’s guitarist)?



Do you think as people don’t buy CDs, bands should focus on doing more touring?

Well, I think the state of the music business where people download music and don’t buy CDs as much, forces bands to tour more and forces artists to tour more. And maybe eventually what that all mean, bands and artists who are good performers on stage will become more in demand and performers who are not, not as much.


So, you are very lucky.

I hope so.


Are you happy with the triumphant return of the vinyl?

Yes! I mean it’s great that vinyl is having a resurgence. I think it has wonderful sound along with the artwork and the packaging being much bigger and it reminds me of growing up with wonderful music and I’m really happy to see that.


What keeps you always busy? I think you have never taken a “break” from music.

Music is my passion, you know. I’m very fortunate to make a living doing what I love and so I see no reason to challenge that.


Are you happy with the amount of coverage that your music receives from mainstream American media and radio stations?

Well, radio is a very boring entity these days. There isn’t a lot of exciting music on the radio. Of course, I would love to see Gov’t Mule get more media attention but we are not one of those bands that kind of exist under the radio and we don’t try to please the mainstream masses, you know. So, in some ways we are lucky to have the audience that we have, but of course I think more people would love the music if they are exposed to.


You are a fantastic producer too. Who are your influences as a producer?

The first person that I learned from was Billy Sherrill who produced the David Allen Coe records and also produced Ray Charles and George Jones and Tammy Wynette. It was through working with him that I learned what a producer’s role is and watching someone who is amazing at his job really inspired me. But I loved people like Tom Dowd (Eric Clapton producer), George Martin (The Beatles producer) and Bob Ezrin (Pink Floyd, Alice Cooper, Peter Gabriel producer) .


I have talked with both George Martin and Bob Ezrin.

I have never met George Martin but I worked with Bob Ezrin and he’s a very nice person. I think he is producing Phish right now.


Tony Williams came out from Boston and joined Miles Davis when he was 17. Are there those kinds of opportunities today?

Maybe.  You know, there are a lot of wonderful young musicians and every generation is different. Every era of music is different, so I don’t know if the opportunities are the same, but things are similar in some ways. People like Derek Trucks (ed: Allman Brothers Band, Tedeschi Trucks Band, solo –guitarist) who is amazing at a very early age. He had a lot of wonderful opportunities just based on the fact that he had something special to offer and people could predict that he had a magnificent future. I was lucky to meet Tony Williams before he died and he was a big hero to me.


Is it possible to play soon in Greece?

I hope so. I would love to, because I ‘ve met many fans from Greece and I would love to come there to perform. I think that would be wonderful.


What kind of music are you listening to at the moment?

At the moment? Sometimes I am listening to jazz like Miles Davis, other times Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters, other times Otis Redding and Ray Charles. A lot of timeless music, you know. I’m also listening to Bob Dylan. I’m always looking for new music but sometimes it’s hard to expect new music and go back to the old standards.


Which is the album that changed your life forever?

Probably “The Allman Brothers Band At Fillmore East”.


A huge “THANK YOU” to Warren Haynes for his time and his great answers. I should also thank Ben for his valuable help.

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